Soldiers, Work and Family

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Linna building, Väinö Linna auditorium, address: Kalevantie 5.


Doctoral defence of M.Soc.Sc. Katri Otonkorpi-Lehtoranta

Sotilaat, työ ja perhe (Soldiers, Work and Family)

The field of science of the dissertation is Sociology.

The opponent is professor Kimmo Jokinen (University of Jyväskylä). Professor Harri Melin acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is Finnish.

Soldiers, Work and Family

The implementation of recent structural reforms have affected the prospects and preconditions of the individual employee to arrange his or her work and family relationships in the Finnish Defence Forces (FDF). This study explores the interface of paid work and family among men engaged in military work at two units of the FDF, the Army Command and the Armoured Brigade. The data consist of group, individual, and expert interviews (29 altogether) and official materials. In the theoretical framework of the study, theorizations of space and gender are combined. From a work and family point of view, the FDF constitutes a peculiar work environment: it is an institutionalized organization that is closely identified with the state and its security policy. Military personnel are confronted with many specific regulations and standing orders in addition to social norms and expectations.

The study shows that practices and processes that organize soldiers’ interface of work and family partly differs from each other at the Army Command and the Armoured Brigade and that these practices and processes are gendered. At the Army Command, wherein physical structures and practices were not yet become established, the organizational arrangements did not completely match the individual needs of work and family. Reorganizing and relocating the Army Command had forced the personnel to reorganize their living arrangements. Those, who were living in the working area with their families and those, who were living apart from their families, composed two different social group with divided needs and expectations of work and family arrangements. The new organization generated also other social divisions between soldiers coming from different parts of the FDF. The Army Command was undergoing developments that divided work, family, and private life into different life spheres. At the Armoured Brigade the meagre human resources restricted flexibility for work and family issues. Nevertheless, employee driven flexibility was considered to be very important. Increasing the workload of colleagues was avoided at the expense of one’s own well-being. The unit was seen as the land of milk and honey and different from other units, in which the cultural climate and flexibility for work and family needs was thought not to be so employee-friendly. At the Armoured Brigade the practices and processes of the interplay of work and family were intertwined with the joint methods of working around shared aims, the professionalization of work and the importance of family and shared parenthood in the soldier’s life course.

The findings indicate that in circumstances of organizational change, conventional ways of mobilizing masculinities are collectively reasserted, while ways of mobilizing masculinities that are inconsistent with convention are restricted. In addition, the individualization of the choices and decisions concerning one’s work and family arrangements – the so called freedom of choice rhetoric – was a way to hinder mobilizing alternative masculinities. At the Armoured Brigade, there were more prospects of mobilizing various kinds of masculinities than at the Army Command. However, mobilizing unconventional masculinities with connection to the interface of work and family was conceivable only by remobilizing dominant masculinities elsewhere.

This study shows that the interface of work and family involves a tension between the institutionalized vocation and professionalized paid work, in which the role of the family is to support and taken care of the soldier’s reproduction of daily work ability, as well as to adjust to the demands of the military organization. At the same time, organizing the work and family interface seems to have become a more individual question as communal support has diminished. Societal and organizational changes have brought the circumstances of soldiers closer to other wage earners in working life. This appears to reassert the tension between the institutionalized vocation and professionalized paid work.

The findings of this study can be utilized by the FDF when developing work and family practices and tangible arrangements, but also by other work organizations. The findings also provide resources to consider social and mental beliefs, assumptions, and conceptions, and their consequences for soldiers’ private lives. In the FDF, the soldier’s ability to function is understood as an ensemble of physical, psychological, social, and ethical abilities. The study offers the tools to consider all of these dimensions from the work and family perspective.


The dissertation is published in the publication series of Acta Universitatis Tamperensis; 2292, Tampere University Press, Tampere 2017. The dissertation is also published in the e-series Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis; 1795, Tampere University Press 2017.

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